Curriculum & Instruction


Curriculum and Instruction in the Diocese of Youngstown


How is Curriculum determined in the Diocese of Youngstown?
The foundational documents of the Office of Catholic Schools provide the overall vision for curriculum and instruction. These are our statements of Philosophy and Beliefs, Vision, Mission, and Profile of a Graduate. From there, Standards, Curriculum, Lesson Design and Instructional Strategies, Assessment, and Environment shape what is taught in our schools. Our Catholic Identity and Mission are infused into all aspects of Curriculum and Instructional program in the Diocese of Youngstown.

How are standards, curriculum, instructional strategies and lesson design, assessment, and environment defined?
Standards are statements that outline the essential knowledge, concepts, and skills to be mastered at each grade level or within a critical content area. They provide the framework of expectations for student learning throughout their educational career. The Diocese of Youngstown bases our own standards on extensive work by educational researchers that combine child development and sound learning theory.

Curriculum is based on the adopted standards. It includes what is taught including the topics to emphasize, how it is taught, in what sequence it is taught and what resource materials may be used.

Lesson Design and Instructional Strategies are the work of the classroom teacher to ensure that the standards and curriculum are implemented with the students for whom they are responsible. Because each student is unique, as is each classroom of students, teachers tailor their lessons to meet the unique needs of students so they can master the standards and curriculum expected of them. Mastery of the standards and curriculum is the goal for each student. Good instruction has always included the articulation of clear learning targets, intentional instruction designed by the teacher, and guided and independent practice to ensure active student engagement in their own learning.

21st century skills refer to skills and competencies needed by our students to help them to be successful as they grow to be contributing citizens to their world. One way 21st Century skills are defined is “the Four C’s:” Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity and Innovation. These, along with careful choice of content, skills, and resources, are the tools of instruction.

In addition to the traditional content disciplines, global awareness, financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy and environmental literacy are to be woven into all content as are learning and innovation skills, information, media, and technology skills and life and career skills. http://www.p21.org/overview/skills-framework

An important element of instruction is the choice of supporting materials and resources. When most adults were in school, the textbook chosen provided the bulk of the content. In our current global world, with so much information available at out fingertips, teachers can and should draw from a variety of sources. While a textbook can still be a valuable resource, it is not the only one. Parents can expect that the textbook is treated as a tool for instruction rather than the only provider of the content. The textbook is not in itself the curriculum. The Diocesan focus on the integration of educational technology in instruction supports the variety of resources available to teacher and students as well as 21st century learning.

Assessment provides evidence of student achievement. Educators use different assessment strategies with students for different reasons.

Formative Assessment is ongoing by both educators and students, usually daily. It takes place during the learning process for the purpose of diagnosing student needs and understanding in order to determine the next steps in instruction. It can be both formal and informal; but grades are usually not attached.

Summative Assessment makes a judgment at the end of a lesson, unit, or course about student competency or program effectiveness. It occurs after the learning takes place. Most visible evidence of this assessment is grades assigned to quizzes, tests, projects and assignments. In addition, standardized testing - such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, the PLAN or the PSAT, ACT or SAT tests, the OGT’s – also provide a measure of student and program effectiveness.

Environment refers to the positive climate that is essential for student learning. A welcoming and safe school and classroom that are dominated by respect for the dignity of each person allow students to focus on the work at hand. Catholic symbols and Gospel values are infused in both the physical, social-emotional and spiritual atmosphere of a building.

In addition, the use of space time, and scheduling supports the learning process. Particularly at the elementary level, traditional lines between subjects may be blurred as teachers focus on not only the individual subject areas, but on how the expected content, skills and concepts can be best integrated across the disciplines.

Professional Development is a priority in the Diocese of Youngstown. Our teachers are key to what happens in our classrooms. High quality professional development continues over time and is purposeful and structured as well as collaborative. Data on student achievement and needs shapes professional development and is evaluated by its impact on student achievement. It supports our teachers as they grow throughout their careers in acquiring, enhancing, and refining their skills and knowledge.

How are standards for curriculum and instruction developed?
The push for Standards in education began in the late 70’s with the work of educational researchers and National Professional Organizations such as the National Council of English Teachers, National Teachers of Mathematics and others in all the major disciplines. Other professional organizations have also developed fine arts, health standards, social studies, science, and foreign language standards. States, including Ohio, became aware of the value of standards in defining education in their individual states, and developed state academic content standards for all of the major subject areas, based at least in part by the work and research of these professional educators. Prior to that, textbook companies often determined the standards to be taught through the adoption of their publications.

Recognizing the value of the research upon which the standards were based, the curriculum in the Diocese of Youngstown since that time has always been based on these and the State of Ohio Academic Content Standards, with careful integration of our Catholic faith values and traditions.

All good standards need to be reviewed periodically to determine if the expectations continue to fit the changing societal expectations as well as the ongoing research on effective education.

Ohio had academic content standards in the past. In 2010, revised standards were adopted to reflect needed changes. Ohio made the choice, along with 46 other states, to adopt the Common Core English Language Arts and Mathematics Standards. At the same time, the state also adopted revised Science and Social Studies Standards written by state committees, with input from the wisdom and research of national organizations, educational researchers, and the experience of teachers and administrators. In 2012, revised Ohio standards have been adopted in just about every other content area, including Early Learning and Development Standards for our Preschools.

What are the Common Core Standards?
Common Core is a term that applies to educational standards that were written for English Language Arts and Mathematics. It was a state-led initiative begun in 2007 coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts with evidences-based research to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and for the workplace. The Governors were concerned that in our mobile society, when students moved from state to state, the differing expectations that varied from grade level, state to state, provided possible gaps in the education of these students. Adoption of these standards is voluntary; each individual state, Catholic Diocese, and private school makes their own decisions about whether to adopt theses standards.

How do these standards relate to our Catholic Schools?
While our mission is first and foremost to assist parents in passing on our Catholic faith to our students, we have a parallel responsibility to provide a quality academic program. The purpose of standards is to provide a foundation and a framework for ensuring learning in the classroom. Analysis of the Common Core Standards shows that they are high quality academic expectations that establish consistent learning goals for all students that focus on preparing them to succeed in college and careers in a globally competitive marketplace. Upon examination, the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools has determined that the rigor and clarity embedded in the standards will allow our students to excel at a high academic level. The standards define and clearly communicate grade-specific goals and inform parents about learning outcomes, making it easier for teachers to collaborate with parents on their children’s education. The National Catholic Education Association supports adoption of the Common Core State Standards in ELA and Math, and to date about 80% of the US dioceses have adopted them. http://www.ncea.org/news/catholic-schools-and-common-core-state-standards
As our curriculums are revised, all of the Ohio New Learning Standards will be used as resources for their development.

Why does there seem to be concern about the Common Core Standards?
In a recent annual Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallop Poll, 62 percent of respondents had never heard of the Common Core, and of those who did, the majority mistakenly believe that they apply to all subjects or are a federal requirement. As with any change, there are myths about the new standards that have circulated. Some of those myths are addressed below.

Myth: The Common Core State Standards dictate the curriculum our school will teach.
This misunderstanding exists because people mistakenly equate standards with curriculum. While we have determined that the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics provide a strong framework for our curriculum, we have total control, just as we always have had, to develop our own curriculums. A curriculum includes what is taught, how it is taught, in what sequence it is taught and what materials to use. None of these elements are included in the Common Core. While in the appendices of the Common Core Standards, materials are suggested as possibilities, we are under no obligation to use any of those suggestions, and our teachers will continue to do what they have always done, select materials that support the intended learning standards from our Diocesan curriculums as well as foster our Catholic values worldview. Our curriculum is not dictated to us.

The NCEA (National Catholic Education Association) is spearheading a Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative to design and implement the Common Core within the culture and context of our Catholic school curriculum. It is a national working group that involves collaboration between Catholic universities, corporations, and sponsors invested in Catholic education, and the NCEA. Model curriculum units are being developed for teacher use. http://catholicschoolstandards.org/cccii-new-website

Myth: The Common Core State Standards are “dulling down” our curriculum and the high expectations we, as Catholic Schools, have always had for our students.
Our examination of the standards as well as professional literature describing them seems to be just the opposite. While the standards do narrow some of the required content at a grade level from our past standards, a deeper grasp of the content is required. When one looks at the total picture, many standards have also been moved to a lower grade level or course. There is an increased emphasis on deeper concept knowledge and application along with the important fluencies that have always been expected. And since we have control over the standards and curriculums in our schools, adding to those standards or rearranging them for the good of the students we serve is our prerogative. Standards are not written to be limiting. Going beyond the standards for a grade level is a decision each teacher makes based on the students she or he is currently serving, as there are layers of depth embedded in the new learning standards.

Myth: The emphasis on student interaction with non-fiction texts will diminish the place of good literature in our curriculums.
The love of literature and reading fostered by the rich fiction texts that have always been a part of learning to enjoy reading will continue. While we want students to be able to also use and enjoy non-fiction texts, this does not in any way diminish the literacy-rich classrooms that are a part of our Diocesan schools. Our teachers will continue with all of the strategies they have used in the past to ‘turn students on’ to reading. Teachers still have control over which literature classics to include in their choice of materials.

Myth: Fluency in mathematics is no longer a priority.
With the emphasis on “understanding the concept” and problem-solving in math, a concern exists among some that fluency in math facts and operations is not a priority. The math standards are not “either-or” but “both-and.” Skill fluency is necessary and emphasized so that students have tools to use in solving problems. However, successful math achievement involves a deep understanding of concepts that goes beyond memorizing procedures that do not make sense to the student. There is a strong focus on students being able to understand and explain the math concepts that are behind the use of the traditional algorithms.

Myth: The new assessments will be intrusive in the privacy of students.
A concern centers around new assessments that are being developed to indicate and report student achievement in key disciplines. While student assessment is a key component in education, the adoption of the actual standards as a sound educational foundation is separate from that. There is a lot of speculation about these new assessments; and while we are beginning to see sample items, we do not yet know enough about them to make a solid plan for their use. While we know that the PARCC assessments are being designed to be taken on-line, we have no final word on any of that. We will have those discussions before making decisions about how to assess our students on the revised standards.

That said, teachers will continue to use multiple means of assessment to ensure that our students are achieving at the levels needed for their success.

What does it mean that the standards are meant to prepare students to be “college and career ready”?
College today means much more than pursuing a four year degree at a university. Being college-ready means being prepared for any post-secondary experience, including study at any two or four year institutions. Academic readiness would mean that remedial courses in college would not be needed. As far as career ready, in today’s economy, a career is not just a job. A career provides a family with a sustaining wage and pathways to advancement, and nearly always requires some kind of post-secondary job training - technical training, community college and/or apprenticeships. Some of the most technical manuals are in fields that traditionally have not required a college degree. While academic preparation alone will not ensure postsecondary readiness, it is one clear component needed for students to succeed. This expectation should NOT lead one to assume that because the goal is to prepare all students for some post-secondary work, that our Diocesan strong commitment to preparing students for four-year degrees and beyond is diminished.

Traditionally, this is an area in which our Catholic schools have excelled, and we expect to continue to do so. In Catholic schools, our emphasis on 21st century skills of creativity and innovation, critical and analytical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and real world application with a Catholic worldview will continue to guide our students to academic success.

How is the Diocese implementing the New Learning Standards?
We are still on a transitional journey of implementation of these new standards. Changes and shifts take time, plus we are giving it thoughtful attention to what is best for our schools. But we believe that both our Catholic identity as well as our academic excellence will be strengthened for the good of our students and their families. Our curriculums are in the process of being revised.

Teachers have had and will continue to have professional development to assist them in making needed transitions. Thoughtful evaluation and selection of resource materials is underway. One of the benefits in the areas of English Language Arts and Math is that, because multiple states have adopted these standards, concentrated resources can be utilized to develop new materials.

Teachers always have the responsibility to meet the needs of the students in their classrooms where they are. In the shift between the past and revised standards, teachers will pay particular attention to making sure that students gain the skills needed without gaps. This may mean that there is a careful blending of the past and new standards in the classroom until a complete shift is able to be made in the future.